Delving deeper into life & happiness
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Category — Popular psychology, thoughts and eureka moments

Not sleeping well? Just be grateful…

Today I saw a Gratitude Box at the Melbourne Sustainable festival.

 

There were people that queued up to type their little note, others read notes made by the grateful and walked away with a smile on their face. I marvelled at how such a simple idea connected us to a happy place within ourselves. It’s easy to get there when all you have to do is reflect on what you are grateful for.

To live life in gratitude means to appreciate your life as it is. It’s a choice, and the more you do it, the more it becomes habitual and we promote a more positive outlook. From this, happiness is cultivated.

There is much research to suggest that spending some time every day reflecting on what we are grateful for has health benefits such as better sleep. Professor Robert Emmons et al from the University of California, found the prac­tice of grat­i­tude can increase hap­pi­ness lev­els by around 25% and that cultivating gratitude correlated with longer and better quality of sleep. When your mind comes from a place of gratitude throughout the day, you’re more likely to have positive thoughts as you’re drifting off to sleep (Psychology today).

An article in the Guardian reported Emmons describing gratitude as a buffer against stress, “Grateful people are less likely to experience envy, anger, resentment, regret and other unpleasant states that produce stress.”

You can actively take control of your own happiness whatever situation you find yourself in with a bit of practice.

February 19, 2012   No Comments

You’re on ‘Timeout’! Do we know how to be alone anymore?

Every life Guru will tell you that you should spend time by yourself. Sometimes the thought of spending time alone filled me with dread. Me and my thoughts need timeout from each other at the best of times. What if I get lonely? Who will I tell if I’ve made my best batch of brownies to date? Facebook? Facebook can’t enjoy brownies.

How many people are actually comfortable being alone? If you say you are, can you claim to really have been alone? Many of us spend most of our waking moments at work interacting with people. Then when you go home, the interaction doesn’t stop. It’s not long before you’re checking your emails or engaging in social media. Most of us live in a space of constant connectedness. Which begs the question- do a lot of us really know how to be alone?

Recently, I made a point of being reclusive for a while after a busy and challenging start to the year. I allowed myself to observe my own thoughts. My mind wandered into some pretty dark places, and though uncomfortable at times, I isolated areas of my life that need attention. I separated my understanding of loneliness and being alone.

Most of us are social beings that thrive on feeling we are part of a societal network. We need to reach out. It’s easy to mute thoughts and feelings with external distractions. We’re often surrounded by social norms, the latest fad, and opinions of others that it’s sometimes hard to isolate your own thoughts and beliefs. Our concept of ‘self’ becomes diluted. However, being mindful of your internal monologue can be quite insightful.

Take a long walk or take a drive. Spending quality time alone provides you with a great opportunity to listen to your inner wisdom and build trust in your own judgment. Taking a step away from the thoughts of others enhances self-reliance, which can be an empowering state of being. Of course, most of us are happiest when surrounded by those we love, but happiness elevated from yourself is the kind that will serve you well in the long term.

February 4, 2012   1 Comment

Timing is everything: Making a good experience better and enduring the bad.

Knowing how long an event or situation is likely to last can intensify the feelings associated with it, according to recent research1 from the University of Toronto.

This is an incredibly powerful tool to use if you’re about to do something you love. You can love it even more. By putting a time limit on a pleasurable experience in place of endless hedonism you can intensify happiness. Contrast a brief two-week stint abroad to an open ended travelling escapade. Knowing that you have a limited time somewhere increases your appreciation of it as you strive to feel, see and eat as much as you can in a short space of time.

This can be equally so for an experience you may be dreading. Knowing how long you’re going to have to sit through a meeting you’re not looking forward to at work, or knowing how long you have to babysit Satan over the weekend will have you clock watching across the set period of time. However, not knowing how long a bad experience is likely to last throws hope into the mix and softens the blow of the negative experience. Imagine being held in an elevator. You’ll probably get more annoyed if you knew you would be required to wait an hour over not knowing when you’ll be released!

Think of this when you’re waiting to see the doctor or waiting for an interview or an overdue baby to arrive. Ignorance can indeed be bliss. You may feel that things are out of your control but you could feel twice as bad if you’re counting down the time.

We can apply the positive aspects of this little insight in the way we pave our lives. If we realize our own impermanence and relatively short time here, we may add some colour to dull periods in life through feeling more intensely. Likewise, when life throws us a curve ball, not knowing how long a bad situation can last may in fact help us endure it.

1)      Zhao, Min and Tsai, Claire (2011), “The Effects of Duration Knowledge on Forecasted Versus Actual Affective Experiences,” Journal Of Consumer Research Vol. 32

 

October 8, 2011   2 Comments

Spend some time with your younger self. You might learn something!

In a moment of nostalgia have you ever wanted to turn back the clock and momentarily step into the shoes of your younger self? Serendipitously, I got to do just that.

I was charged with the task of sorting through my childhood memorabilia in my family home. In amongst the piles of diaries, poems and photos I found a rather intriguing letter.  A letter from my eighteen year old self to my future self. The letter recounted the highs and lows of my eighteenth year and goals for the future.

I was intrigued to discover how I have changed but more interestingly, parts of me that remained the same. Many psychologists believe there are 5 personality traits which can change throughout life stages. These universal traits are conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, openness and extroversion.  Research conducted by Sanjay Srivastava at Stanford University supported this idea of personality changing and found that conscientiousness increases in your twenties and agreeableness increases in your thirties. There was a noted decrease in neuroticism amongst women implying females worry less as they get older. Thankfully, in stark contrast to the reckless critter I appeared to be at eighteen, I can see that I have become more conscientious in the way I apply myself in work and play. So far in my timeline, the other traits seem stable. I’m still a gregarious worrywart that is open to experiencing and learning new things as I’ve always been.

It’s perfectly plausible that our traits can change with life stages. After all, we need to constantly adapt to new environments. Our lives are not static. Sometimes you have to change to fit in, or even re-wire your attitude and belief systems to cope with life’s changes. The brain’s neuroplasticity makes us capable of change and this adaptability could be highly advantageous in surviving a changing world.

Socrates advocated self-knowledge being the key to happiness. Observing traits which haven’t changed can increase your self-awareness by reinforcing what you already know about yourself. Through reading the letter, I discovered that my goals as a teen is consistent with my current aspirations. My mission back then was simple – to understand and appreciate myself. Unknowingly, the letter itself has got me closer to achieving that goal!

View old pictures, old video footage and see what’s changed and what has stayed the same. Your younger self may teach you a thing or two about yourself.

September 3, 2011   1 Comment

Surviving Career Purgatory

I have spoken to quite a few people recently who have become restless with regards to their careers. They could probably be quite successful in any number of careers but as usual, the more options presented makes it harder to decide which road to go down. I call this ‘career purgatory’ because you feel you’re not moving forward, just held rudderless and forced to reflect on your life. I felt like this for a long time so thought I’d recount parts of my journey and share the insights I found. If it helps someone feeling a tad deficient with regards to their career, then I’m honoured to help.

I once started the ‘perfect career’ that would have see me inspired and indulged by a sense of reward and fulfillment. The reality was somewhat different. That door closed and it was painful but what opened before me was something bigger – the start of an adventure that would see me develop personally, reposition the goal posts and rediscover what exactly got me excited about life again. Throughout this period of growth the destination ahead was never clear so all I allowed myself to do was to just be present and enjoy the ride until I achieved clarity.

Temping was a great ‘foster home’ whilst I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I took this time to engage with people from various industries to see where my skills and interests could possibly be combined. I attended conferences and networking functions to learn more about the things I was interested in and found that it was the people I met and meeting people generally that ignited my excitement. I made an effort to spend time doing things that enriched me like taking short stints abroad, spending time with family, spending time alone. I reflected, wrote and discovered.

Working with my temporary team that I admired and respected and who appreciated me in return was nourishing. I was happy to wake up for work. I started taking to a colleague from another department who restructured my thoughts on the idea of a “perfect career”. In my haste to not make another career mistake I was adamant on finding the perfect job which ‘ticked all the boxes’. In defining what I wanted, I was actually limiting myself. He said I didn’t have to be a ‘360 degree person’ in my next job. A job cannot give you everything. Other areas of my life can fill in the gaps to enable total intellectual fulfillment. This was somewhat of a revelation for me. I had to understand this before I finally found my perfect career.

Changing careers can be like a re-birth in a ‘re-incarnation’ sort of way. One is re-born countless times and though the core essence of your soul remains the same, it’s in a progressive state of evolution. Sometimes your job or career may meet an untimely death. You can’t fathom why it happened, and it can be hard to adjust to the change. You’re forced to dwell in ‘career purgatory’ and reflect on everything you’ve learned thus far whilst planning your next step – your next life. There may be something much bigger that you need to achieve in this uncomfortable limbo period, or indeed on your next role. Starting over is a rare opportunity to paint a blank canvas again – the way you want to. The picture may very well turn into a masterpiece.

A special thank you to my “temporarily temporary colleagues” who were part of this journey, you’ve become my permanent friends.

Seeing change as an opportunity is the only way to weather the change storm

July 5, 2011   1 Comment

Procrastination: A Rite of Passage in Understanding Ourselves

I’m supposed to be planning the next step of my career. It’s time consuming, arduous and at times daunting. It’s easy to try and put this off for another evening. After all, there’s blogging to be done, and soon, I’ll be doing the washing up.  Logically, we should focus on priorities, however, procrastination ignores logic. For something so unproductive, how did we evolve to procrastinate?  I was surprised to find very little material on the evolutionary origins of procrastination so I have my own theory. After all, it must have served us well at some point to survive as a trait. I firmly believe it still does, and there’s alot we can learn about ourselves.

Procrastination doesn’t always make us feel good. The anxiety you get from it co-exists with guilt. Unfortunately, it is self perpetuating. You feel uncomfortable at the thought of completing a task, so you delay having to do it which makes you feel worse. We cushion this guilt with excuses and turn a blind eye. Anxiety can be the cause of procrastination or the result of it. By trying to understand what is making us procrastinate and restructuring our thinking to consider procrastination as in fact a positive experience, a “side effect” of mindful pausing, we can work on reducing the anxiety.

We all have different coping mechanisms to stressful or mentally taxing situations. Exam time was interesting. Trying to understand certain aspects of maths and biomechanics made me cry so I zoned out and drew, wrote poems and even learned the Romeo and Juliet’s Balcony scene in bid to distract myself from practicing long division. 15 years later, I still can recite the scene but I sure can’t do long division! Procrastination is often a coping mechanism by large. For me, it’s a mind space where my best ideas come from and my creativity blooms.

Doodles - Animals overlooking the dreamy landscape of Procrasti Nation

Animal behaviourists have documented ‘displacement behaviours’ where animals have conflicting drives like the desire to approach an object but also having a fear of that object so engage in redundant behaviours like scratching or grooming. It’s an energy outlet when you come across this conflict and cant do / wont do what you need to do. Can we not apply this to procrastination?! When we’re faced with that conflict of having to complete a task we really don’t want to do, we opt to do something else completely unrelated. We doodle, or leave our desks bathroom bound on an empty bladder rather than tackle that to-do list. Try to explain this this theory of displacement behaviour to your boss when you’re sprung surfing the net “it’s my evolutionary prerogative!”.

It’s what you choose to do when you procrastinate that can be insightful. Think about what is holding you back in completing those tasks you want to avoid. Delaying decisions you may have to make or task you have to complete may be alerting you to there being bigger things at play that you’re unable to consciously acknowledge. Procrastination can be healthy – a mental ‘time out’ and it gives us a little snippet into your ‘ideal’, our inspired space, the place we run to when things get alittle tough. It can be a fantastic way of finding out where you true desires are. On that note, blog completed, I’m going to do the washing up to ponder what exactly is stopping me in writing that cover letter for that dream job!

 

June 6, 2011   2 Comments

Decisions, Decisions. Your Second Brain and How to Move Forward by Standing Still.

I was supposed to be shopping. Two glorious hours on Oxford Street in London before I met my mother and sister for a bite to eat. Somehow I found myself steering off course on to a side street and then further and further away from the shopping precinct. It was then, by a statue of Franklin Roosevelt in Grosvenor Square, that I stopped walking. I sat down on a stone step, sipped my coffee and looked around to see so many solitary people looking glazed into space. What were they thinking? Soon I became one of them. I fell prey to a mind that needs no encouragement to go to a place where it can chase it’s own tail. Then finally it takes one big chomp…..

We strive forwards. We migrate that way to achieve a goal or dream. Sometimes we take a step back to reflect and assess our current standing. A pulse check. Sometimes we need to tip toe backwards simply to learn the basics to conquer the bigger goals. A step back in order to go forward. More often than not, this is just a temporary step back.

What happens when your feet are stuck? You can’t move forwards, nor backwards, because you don’t know where you want to go. Your vision in the distance front and back is hazy. And what if your feet are stuck in different places – you have one foot and half of your heart in one place then your other foot and the other half of your aortic chamber in another? You’re forced to stop walking.

The safest thing to do is to stand still. This is not a bad thing.

I recently enjoyed morning tea with a truly fascinating family friend Simon. He teaches people to manipulate space and time in light of their personal and corporate decision making. By slowing down the time part and holding off from making a decision you actually tap into a kind of “flow” where you allow events to unfold naturally and answers to emerge when you’re ready to make the right decision. Sometimes it’s not the right time to make a decision and other things need to happen for you to be better placed to decide.

A natural concern to this school of thought is that whilst waiting, you potentially let opportunities slip past you. This is when intuition and gut feel must guide you. The more you ‘listen’ to your gut, the more refined your senses become. After all, modern science is comfortable with the concept that we have a second brain in our gut.  Your “gut brain” contains neurons and neurotransmitters just like those found in your skull brain. Just like your primary brain, your “gut brain” is also able to learn, remember, and produce emotion-based feelings.

So listen to your gut and attempt to de-clutter your mind of thoughts that hold you back which scream louder than the voice in your gut. Stop ‘moving’ every so often and let go of baggage that no longer serves you as this confounds your present judgement.  Sit in the eye of the storm, be still, and allow the flow to take you where ever you need to go.  Remember that blissful moment when the heavy rain finally stops and everything is clear, fresh and still. It’s in this stillness where you will find clarity. All your answers are there within you, they just surface at the right time, when you’re ready.

And then, you can take that step forward. Thanks Mr Roosevelt ol’ chap for pointing me in the right direction!

 

 

May 7, 2011   1 Comment

Dream on. Sure, if I may.

Jiminy Cricket once said, “If you don’t have a dream, how can you have a dream come true?”.  Wise words from a talking cricket. I’m a dreamer. There, I said it. In a society which admires focused go getters and it’s the survival of the fittest, I have always tried to snap out of my dreamy moments and appear on the ball, pragmatic and realistic. I would certainly not own up to be a dreamer…until now, when a dream came true!

This little story is written whilst i quietly smile inside. It’s dedicated to my friend Annette who surprised me with how well she knows me and made a huge difference to my life because of it.

My school reports always said how i need to concentrate more. I was the child who would stare outside the classroom window and live little adventures in my head and then suddenly class would be over. I wasn’t like this with all subjects…just those that didn’t grip me. My adventures were far too exciting.

I find this still happens. I can’t help it. I get lost, and i enjoy it, flitting between the realms of dream world and reality. I never thought that this trait would ever serve me well.

Recently, I had a series of job interviews for a company I really wanted to work for. They asked for references. My friend, a successful professional who really lives from her heart agreed to be a personal referee for me. When asked about my bad traits, my friend reluctantly said that I was a dreamer. In hindsight that’s a pretty kind response but when she told me, I panicked. I thought, what employer would hire someone who didn’t appear strongly focused.

As one awaits their fate on “Who wants to be a millionaire” i stopped breathing for a few moments to listen to my friend relay back to me the employer’s reaction.  My future boss then said that’s the sort of person they are looking for. Jackpot. I guess the more i develop in my new role the more conceptual and creative I’ll need to be. I can do conceptual and creative. That’s where my mind naturally goes!

I’m not devoid of reality. I just have a vivid imagination that let’s me push the boundaries in trying to understand the world as i know it. I like to think, that as spices and herbs do wonders to an otherwise bland dish, my imagination adds more colour to my life. By no means my life is bland- my dreaminess puts a stop to that! It allows me to challenge the status quo and to examine a life outside the box.

For the first time, I’m happy being a dreamer. It’s my creative aid.

July 3, 2010   1 Comment